Mildred L. Harpole, who served as an educator and advocate for fair and open housing in Milwaukee for decades, died with Reuben K. Harpole, Jr., her devoted husband, of more than 60 years by her side on Oct. 24, 2019.
A native of Cleveland, Mildred moved to Milwaukee to attend Marquette University from which she graduated in 1956. She became one of the first African American women in Milwaukee to receive a law degree which she earned from Western Reserve Law School (now Case Western Reserve University).
Mildred met Reuben, the love of her life, during her undergraduate years. She and Reuben were married in Cleveland in 1959. The young couple returned to Milwaukee to raise their family and forge the community ties that they nurtured and developed over the course of their lives.
Beginning in the early 1960s, Mildred was actively engaged in the struggle to end de facto segregation in Milwaukee’s schools. Mildred helped form several “Freedom” schools as documented in two publications: More than one Struggle: The Evolution of Black School Reform Milwaukee (2004) by Jack Dougherty and The Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency of Milwaukee (2009) by Patrick D. Jones. These grassroots schools offered improved educational opportunities for the children of southern, African American migrants to Milwaukee who were both underprivileged and underserved by the school system. She went on to become one of the earliest Administrators (Principal) of the Harambee Community School in Milwaukee. While serving as reading specialist for the Milwaukee Public School System in the 1960s, Mildred was one of the producers for the television program “Black Thang” in which students worked in front of and behind the camera to present issues of the day. The innovative program incorporated educational skills with hands-on work experience.
During the 1970s Mildred turned her attention from public education and applied her legal training as director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) – Milwaukee Regional Office (Wisconsin) – Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. Mildred received broad recognition from policy makers, developers and community groups for her engagement. During the late 1970s, Mildred served as chair of the health committee for the Harambee Health Center (in 1978 the name was changed to the Isaac Coggs Health Connection) and was awarded a $5 million grant from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and members of Fisk University for the city of Milwaukee to continue the mission of the health center. Even after her retirement from HUD in 2002, Mildred remained a tireless advocate for fair and open housing practices in Milwaukee.
Her community involvement was extensive. She was the 11th National President of Eta Phi Beta Sorority (a national business and professional women’s organization affiliated with the National Council of Negro Women), a member of the Milwaukee County Cultural Artistic and Musical Programming Advisory Council, a member of the City of Milwaukee Arts Board, Founder-President of the North Central Service Club (a civic engagement organization), Executive Committee member for the Community Brainstorming Conference, past board member of Family Service of Milwaukee, a member of Milwaukee Forum, and TEMPO Milwaukee, a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and a charter member of Cream City Links, Inc.
In 1993, Mildred and her husband, Reuben, received the Vatican II Award from the Milwaukee Archdiocese for service in society. In 2012, the couple received The Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals National Philanthropy Day – Todd Wehr Volunteer Award and in 2013 the couple received the City of Milwaukee’s Frank P. Zeidler Public Service Award.
The family will receive visitors from 4-8 pm on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019 at Northwest Funeral Chapel 6630 West Hampton Ave. A Funeral Mass will be held on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019 at St. Frances of Assisi Church at 1927 North Vel Phillips Avenue (4th and Brown Street) beginning at 12:30 pm. From 2-6 pm a repast and testimonials will be held at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society/Museum, 2620 West Center St.
Mildred is survived by her husband, Reuben, son John and daughter, Annette. In lieu of flowers, monetary donations may be made out to Reuben Harpole, Jr. and sent to Northwest Funeral Chapel or donations may be made in Mildred’s honor to one of the following organizations: the Wisconsin Black Historical Society Museum (www.wbhsm.org), America’s Black Holocaust Museum (https://abhmuseum.org/category/contribute), North Central Service Club Founders’ Scholarship (P.O. Box 170324 • Milwaukee, WI 53217) or St. Francis of Assisi Church (www.stfrancismil.org).